Various Artists: All That Jive: Jazz Classics with a Swinging Sense of Humor

Chip O'Brien

Various Artists

All That Jive: Jazz Classics with a Swinging Sense of Humor

Label: Savoy Jazz
US Release Date: 2003-05-28
UK Release Date: Available as import

The title of this album, All That Jive: Jazz Classics with a Swinging Sense of Humor is apt, right on the money in fact, and exactly what's gathered here. However, the note on the back of the CD, which promises to bring back some of what's been missing in jazz, "that sense of lightheartedness which was there before the egg headed intellectuals discovered the music and started taking it -- and themselves -- way too seriously", is a tad misleading. This is because the artists whose material makes up the majority of the songs on this album are and were those "egg headed intellectuals".

Just about every singer and musician represented on this album could be categorized as a bebop artist, and most certainly would have described themselves that way. Bebop was the style of jazz that made the music exclusive, ultimately opening the door for a new, popular style of music other than jazz, something called rock 'n' roll. Bebop is the most demanding style of jazz, both physically and intellectually. Without a truly broad and deep sense and knowledge of melody and harmony, often much more complex than any style of pop music and much of classical music, one cannot even begin to be able to play bebop in a convincing way. The artists who created this music are the artists on this album. However, it should be noted that the songs gathered here show those artists at their most playful.

Although Charlie Parker is not listed in the credits as having played on any of this material, his alto saxophone whines and wails loud and clear on "Flat Foot Floogie". And, if my ears don¹t deceive me, another prominent father of the age of bebop, Charlie Christian, the first great electric guitarist -- who made good with Bennie Goodman and actually influenced Bird -- also makes an appearance, and on the same track as Charlie Parker. Quite frankly, I don't believe I have any recordings of these two legends playing together. So this was a treat, if, in fact this was what I was listening to. But due to the incomplete and limited liner notes, we can't be certain.

There are even bebop classics on this collection, such as Thelonius Monk's seminal bebop ballad, "'Round Midnight", sung by a young Jackie Paris, and Charlie Parker's "Ornithology", sung by Babs Gonzales. With lyrics penned by Bennie Harris, "Ornithology"'s title was changed to "The Boss Is Back". Personally, it bugs me when artists take tunes originally meant to be performed as instrumentals, especially bebop tunes with their ridiculously complicated lines and harmonies, and pair lyrics with them. Trite lyrics, incongruous with the aggression and rebellious nature of the music, always seem to somehow belittle the complexity of the melody and harmony and take away from the beauty of this music.

The album starts out wonderfully with the Billy Eckstine Orchestra, one of the many bands in which Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie cut their teeth. The song is "Rhythm in a Riff", and Ecktine's seasoned band, tight horn arrangements, and confident, silky smooth vocals seem to promise an album full of cool music. The track is followed by another Ecktine classic, "Oop Bop Sh'bam", which evokes every image you've ever had of "jive" and that particular era.

Unfortunately, the album begins to flag around Jackie Paris's version of "'Round Midnight", only the fourth track, and then really gains downward momentum a third of the way through with "On the Sunny Side of the Street". It sounds like Satchmo singing, sounds like his trumpet playing, But it ain't. It's Dizzy Gillespie parodying Louie Armstrong. And I know Diz loved Armstrong probably more than anybody. But still, I can't help but feel a little stupid, as if I've been tricked. Bamboozled by the hipsters. By the "egg headed intellectuals".

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